This time around I want to discuss a topic that is not mentioned too often in mob groups or on mob websites. It’s LCN’s control of the gay nightclub scene here in NYC, especially in the era prior to the civil rights movement when gays in NYC who were into nightlife where getting squeezed from every direction. Law enforcement raids on a regular basis and constantly being harassed by the general public too. It’s no surprise that LCN, always on the hunt for any and every money making opportunity, would eventually stumble into this huge niche market. As strange as it may seem to people whose idea of the mob is that of a very close minded almost religious attitude towards anything like drug use and homosexuality, and while most wiseguys probably wouldn’t want their own children to be drug addicts or gay, they have absolutely no problems profiting from anyone else’s children being one or the other and in LCN’s case they especially profit when addicts and gays are one and the same.
I initially became interested in this topic when I came across a photo of the estranged wife of Vito Genovese, Anna Petillo, who was pictured leaving a courthouse after testifying about her husband’s income, both illegal and legal, and how he had set her up as the manager of one of his many after hour and gay clubs, a place called the 181 Club. Petillo was also known to have relationships with other women as well both before and during her marriage to Genovese, which obviously made her more than qualified to oversee her husband’s interests in that world. This is not to say Genovese and other wiseguys of this era, the 50’s and 60’s, were strangers to gay clubs, on the contrary, they would stop by on a regular basis whether on the pretense of picking up protection money, distributing narcotics or to just check out how the other half lives.
Around this time I also discovered another great book by Philip Crawford, The Mafia and The Gays, which actually has a bright pink cover no less, and goes into great detail. It gives names of extremely well known wiseguys who were heavily involved in the then illegal gay club scene. Usually the wiseguys best known for involvement in narcotics were the ones most involved in the illegal clubs. Men such as Matty “The Horse” Iannello, who is usually most remembered for not only owning the famous Umbertos Clam Bar in Little Italy, NY, but for being present when notorious rebel wise guy Crazy Joe was gunned down there one early morning in 1972.
Iannello was actually better known amongst mob enthusiasts as the Genovese family captain who virtually controlled all Vice in the entire old Times Square area before the current “Disneyfication”. Everything from porno theaters, dirty bookstores to the actual prostitutes, both male and female, of age and underage. As surprising as that may be to some, LCN making money off of the degenerates involved in child prostitution….welcome to the reality of the mob where no money is too dirty as long as it spends. Where men like Gambino soldier Robert DiBernardo, one time top pornographer in NYC specializing in so called “sick shit”, meaning child porn and bestiality. He reported directly to and paid his tribute to bosses Paul Castellano and later John Gotti. Remember that next time someone gushes over how was well dressed Gotti was or how nice his pinky ring was and how maybe it was paid for by some 10 yr. old being abducted in a van….but i digress.
Another name I was surprised to see as another big player in the 60’s gay bar scene was Gotti mentor, Aniello Dellacroce, who had many silent partnerships in the scene. His most famous was the Stonewall Inn, scene of the 1969 Stonewall riots when the gay community in the Greenwich Village area finally got fed up and rioted for days protesting both police harassment and mafia price gouging. Also, the legendary John Sonny Franzese, who partnered with Matty Iannello, in many gay as well as straight clubs and after hour joints. One of the most interesting so called partnerships was the one between the notorious Gallo’s of President Street in South Brooklyn and Al Goldstein, publisher of pornographic Screw Magazine. Back in the day Goldstein was having problems with distribution and that’s where the Gallo’s came in, not only strong arming newsstands into displaying the pornographic magazine but also kept other wiseguys from trying to squeeze Goldstein themselves. Another couple of names I was very interested to come across was Carmine and Danny Fatico, the original proprietors of Bergin Hunt and Fish Club and future Gambino boss John Gotti. The Fatico brothers had many interests in gay and after hour clubs.
One humorous side note I found in Crawford’s book was a columnist in the New York papers back in the 1950s named Lee Mortimer, who was an anti-mob crusader of sorts, chose to target the mob owned “daffodil dens” as he called them. After being threatened by the likes of Tony Mirra, who would about 20 years after this go on to become infamous as the Bonnano soldier who introduced FBI agent Joe Pistone AKA Donnie Brasco, to his fellow Bonnnano’s and pay with his life for his mistake. At the time, he was a young wiseguy trying to intimidate a journalist who was bringing heat to a lucrative mob racket. Mortimer published a column that not only accused top mob figures of being involved in gay nightlife, but of possibly being gay themselves, in Mortimer’s words, “indoctrination in prison”.
After the Stonewall riots of 1969 the mob control of the gay scene became less in the upscale scenes and they mostly controlled the under-age soda fountain type joint, where middle aged chicken hawk types would prey on the underage teenage male prostitutes, which were also working for LCN. This again proves that there is no business too lowlife for LCN to make a buck. Fat Tony Salerno being another boss involved in this seedy and sleazy racket. Once things got this bad and gentrification began changing the very fabric of the neighborhoods, these joints existed in, law enforcement was forced to crack down on the more flagrant mob spots and their degenerate clientele. Since the large scale mob busts of the 90’s and early 2000’s, LCN’s control of the gay nightlife has waned and corporations have taken over the once sleazy gay nightclub scene, which is now respectable as any other nightlife scene. In its own crazy way LCN paved the way!
Comments or questions are welcome.